Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

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Uh-oh ... According to the Fargo Forum, claims that the Fargo Social Security event blacklist was the work of an over-zealous local volunteer may not hold up.

"[C]lues uncovered Friday, says the Forum, "indicate a worker with the White House advance team may have been the culprit.

Palm Beach Post, Feb. 5, 2005

Onstage with Bush during his hourlong town hall meeting were five Tampa Bay-area residents ranging from 20-something to retiree. They included 27-year old Jim Browne of St. Petersburg, who said, "Many of my generation do not anticipate Social Security being there."

To which Bush answered, "When I was 27 years old, I don't remember anybody talking about whether the system is going to be there."

USAToday, July 28, <$NoAd$> 2000
Bush [then 32] won the primary and, in the general election against Democratic state Sen. Kent Hance, ran on some of the same ideas he promotes today. He supported the 33 1/3% tax cut proposed by Jack Kemp and William Roth. He predicted Social Security would go broke in 10 years and said the system should give people "the chance to invest money the way they feel" is best.

AEI Public Opinion Study, February 3, 2005

Confidence in the future of the Social Security system has been lacking for a long time. A question asked in 1981 shows that only 31 percent had a great deal or a fair amount of confidence that the Social Security system would have enough money to pay benefits after the year 2000! Still, Americans do not see the Social Security system in crisis. They believe it has serious problems.

Egg shells.

From Gannett...

Even Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, one of the president's strongest supporters, backed away from a Wednesday statement in which he said, "I agree with the president's plan to encourage personal savings."

On Thursday, DeWine modified the statement to say, "I agree that we must do something to encourage personal savings." But he said he had not "determined whether ... private savings accounts should be a part of strengthening Social Security for our children and grandchildren."

The Cincinnati Post elaborates ...

Sen. Mike DeWine, a GOP moderate, sometimes supports the president's policies and sometimes doesn't. His office had a tough time explaining whether or not he stands with the president this time.

Right after the president's State of the Union address Wednesday night, DeWine's office put out a statement saying the senator believed that the speech opened an important dialogue on protecting Social Security.

"I agree with the president's plan to encourage personal savings,'' the statement quoted the senator as saying.

Sounds like an endorsement of Bush's proposal to let younger workers invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in personal retirement accounts. Right? Not exactly.

The next day, DeWine's office issued another statement clarifying the senator's remarks. Instead of saying he agreed with the president's plan, what the first statement should have said, according to the follow-up release, was simply, "I agree that we must do something to encourage personal savings.''

"Sen. DeWine has not determined whether or not private savings accounts should be part of strengthening Social Security for our children and grandchildren,'' the second statement said. "He does, however, strongly believe that we must look for ways to encourage more personal savings so that when people retire, that in addition to enjoying the benefits of Social Security, they will have other sources of income.''

The Cedarville Republican remains open "to all ideas'' and believes that "the ideas that the president has, other Republicans have, and Democrats have should be fully explained, discussed and debated, and that we should forge a bipartisan compromise,'' the follow-up release said.

"He also believes that is most important that we listen to the people, on what they think should be done to ensure that Social Security remains strong."

The rapid growth of GOP queasiness about Social Security phase-out has strained the acceptance <$Ad$> mechanisms for the Conscience Caucus. Clearly DeWine is now a member of the Caucus since, as the founding rules state, he does "appear open to" opposing the president's plan.

FIW status (Finger In The Wind) is reserved for those members who more or less openly state that they are willing to begin phasing out Social Security so long as the president can make it safe for them to do so. This status was first created for Sen. Gordon Smith (R) of Oregon.

Now, here at TPM we're not so naive as not to understand that the great majority of Conscience Caucus members are Finger In The Winders in their heart of hearts. But, remember, the FIW status is reserved for that select group who more or less openly concede their intention to make a vote devoid of principle and indifferent to policy, like Smith.

As you can see, though, Sen. DeWine doesn't qualify since he is one of that legion of Republicans who just think the world of George W. for taking the initiative on such a complex issue but somehow, well ... just at the end of the day, gosh darnit, they just can't seem to get their head around the subject, can't decide whether replacing Social Security with private accounts is a good thing or not.

So even though we hear the initials may already be taken for something else, we've come up with a new category for these folks. Sen. DeWine is our first member of the Caucus to come in with CFO status, Can't Figure it Out.

[ed.note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Sen. Mel Martinez as possibly entering the Conscience Caucus with FIW status.]

The Prez will only chat up stock brokers on stage in Tampa?

A White House spokesman tells the Tampa Tribune that the president will be joined on stage by a handful of individuals "who have a vested interest in strengthening Social Security and have an important story to tell."

[ed.note: emphasis added.]

Pat Toomey declares war on the Conscience Caucus!

With echoes of Milton and Paradise Lost, former Congressman and now Club for Growth President Pat Twomey has ordered television ad buys against Conscience Caucus members Sen. Lincoln Chafee, restored Caucus member Rep. Sherry Boehlert and Rep. Joe Schwarz, who we didn't even know until today was a Caucus man.

(We hadn't even had time to add Schwarz's name to the list before Twomey struck.)

Stay with these three worthies as they enter their time of troubles!

Chafee is already in CUP? status in the Caucus. He could give up the ghost entirely.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R) Maine risking her Loud and Proud status in the Conscience Caucus?

Last week Snowe told the Washington Post that she was "certainly not going to support diverting $2 trillion from Social Security into creating personal savings accounts" and told the president that "she would be concerned about doing anything that would undermine the guaranteed benefit of Social Security."

But today, according to RawStory.com, Snowe's press secretary Preston Hartman says: “I wouldn’t say it’s fair to say that she’s against the president’s plan.”

“She’s cautious," says Hartman, "and she wants to examine all the options out there.”

Even the Libertarians aren't buying the Social Security Speech Code!

[ed.note: Ideological exactitude requires me to note that while one would expect Libertarians to be, on principle, in favor of a private-accounts-based phase-out of Social Security, they are the last folks you would expect to have any truck with a White House-dictated Social Security speech code. And in this regard, the good folks at Reason magazine's Hit and Run Blog, which we've linked above, have acquitted themselves quite nicely.]